PROFESSIONAL REVIEW: Speculative Design and Curriculum Development

With higher education standards on the rise, curriculum designers are turning to controversial methods to develop their programs. Inhabiting in what is described as a “post-course” era, students and their career interests are moving away from traditional curriculum courses and toward engagements outside of the formal curriculum. Randy Bass, an Executive Director at Georgetown University, was consulted on the subject claiming we should “enrich the formal curriculum and also consider supporting and augmenting activities in the ‘extra’ curriculum” (Willis, 378). This way the curriculum could be integrated and thoughtful based on student interest.

In Speculative Design and Curriculum Development, Holly Willis and Steve Anderson explore the development of a new BA degree from the University of Southern California based on speculations of that “post-course” era of higher education. Willis and Anderson question the degrees’ ability to synthesize formal and informal learning, as well as course content, assignments, and specific assessments and professors. The summary of their research can be accompanied quite appropriately by the inclusion of Ben Williamson’s affirmation: “The curriculum of the future is not ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered, but must be imagined and constructed” (Willis, 379).
The essay explains that through the use of the three practices of critical design, speculative design, and design fiction that we can imagine what such a future curriculum is like. Critical design is a practice that allows us to re-imagine and redesign curricular models that may be disruptive or troubling, while speculative design and design fiction practices allow creating imaginative projections of possible future designs–creating storytelling narratives that bring those designs from reality to science fiction. The latter practices are what inspired Willis and Anderson to research a concept called “worldbuilding” as it applies to both film and academics.
This “worldbuilding,” a concept used in developing the previously mentioned BA program, combines the practices of story creation and a nonlinear workflow. In simple terms, those using “worldbuilding” for curriculum development focus on the context of information before putting it into practice (ex. visual world creation before writing a screenplay). Willis and Anderson research this type of curriculum, questioning the validity of pedagogical practices in a student-designed degree program. They discovered a fair balance of theory and practice within a traditionally structured program, where students work in an individual and team based environment. The result is students have more responsibility–leading classes using provided and sought out resources for their specific study.

Wills and Anderson conclude their research by relating the structure of Southern California’s degree program to the “demand-pull approach.” Developed by John Seely Brown, John Hagel, and Lang Davison, the approach has the potential to shape the education system to fit students rather than shaping students to education systems. Although the development of degree programs such as this are relatively new and experimental, Willis and Anderson make a fair case for this new direction in education.
I can’t help thinking this type of program will be under scrutiny for some time, especially if curriculum designers want to make the program the norm. Assessment strategies need to be specific now more than ever in state universities. However, I think the new program is brilliant. Constructing an education based on what the students want makes sense, because both careers and student interests are shifting with each coming year. I am reminded of Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, when the authors suggest a program of theory and practice, as well as “thinking through making” (Willis, 381). The strategies in this curriculum’s development mirror a project I completed while studying Early Childhood education. I designed an “Integrated Unit Plan,” which allowed me to introduce a broad topic to young children and they were left to explore anything and everything they could about said topic. Just like the college students, they could seek out class speakers and suggest class trips based on the developing interest and research. (Hey- If it can work for a kindergartner, then why not a college student?)

More related to graduate studies, this practice of student-led curriculum follows reader-response theory and the role of the intellectual. Students examine topics of study and choose a focus based on the research of those given topics. I believe this gives students an intellectual role in the development of their education. Professors and other mentors are the “esteemed” intellectuals, whose purpose is to guide students through an institution non-traditionally. The development of this new degree program is a perfect example of going against what was formally expected of intellectuals.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEW: “Media Literacy the K-12 Classroom”

Jonathan Friesem’s review of Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom is an overall positive comment on the work of Frank Baker. Friesem notes in his review the functions of Baker’s book: to provide initial knowledge of the media literacy field for beginning teachers, and to provide new resources in media literacy for seasoned teachers. He compares Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom to the work of professionals Hart and Potter. He writes “Baker puts more emphasis on the theory and resources than on the practice” (Friesem, 395). Breaking down the chapters, Friesem discusses Baker’s research and examples of media importance and the easy application of media in the K-12 classroom. He determines that Baker gives a clear outline of his own media literacy sequence: visual literacy; analyzing advertisements and motion images; and recognizing representation, bias and stereotypes in the media. Friesem distinguishes that Baker’s book does not prepare a teacher to deal with controversial discussions or teach extensive media classes; rather, he feels the book is better suited for a foundation in theory and simple practice, a starting point for lessons and a resource guide. In other words, Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom is a useful supplement for those working with media literacy.

While reading through this quick review, I found Friesem writing in circles. I have little doubt that he thinks Baker’s book is useless, but his argument is a little confusing. He begins with a tone which suggests Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom is suited for only experienced teachers. However, when I read further, he expands on the foundational nature of the book. I finally gained a clear reading when Friesem wrote “On the one hand, the book is rich and resourceful, but on the other hand, it does not address pedagogy and class climate” (Friesem, 396). The review could have been made clearer if Friesem initially suggested the book functioned well as a supplement rather than main text of a classroom.


Intellectuals & Power:
A Conversation Between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze

The conversation with these two post-structuralist intellectuals was recorded in 1972 and discusses issues surrounding class struggle as well as theory, practice and power. I outlined the main arguments in the following sections:


Deleuze: a theory is “always local and related to a limited field, and it is applied in another sphere.” Once it is categorized, a theory will face challenges that will require further or alternative discourse. This is confusing for me because later Deleuze states, “We don’t revise a theory, but construct new ones” (2). Once a theory is not applicable, it must be disregarded?
Foucault: The intellectuals are responsible for developing consciousness and discourse concerning power. Their theories are their practice because power “transforms [them] into it’s object.

Deleuze: “If the protests of children were heard in kindergarten, if their questions were attended to, it would be enough to explode the entire educational system” (3). Does this mean that in theory, every voice should be heard, but in reality, only those in power are heard? If so, what does this say about our use of representation?
Foucault: “It is often difficult to say who holds power in a precise sense, but it is easy to see who lacks power” (5). This is why power struggles are so prominent in most societies.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEW: “Keepin’ it Real,” by Megan Sweeney

Megan Sweeney


“Keepin’ it Real”

Incarcerated Women’s Readings of African American Urban Fiction

Megan Sweeney’s essay Keepin’ it Real is a refreshing examination of a genre of literature otherwise overlooked by critics. This essay is one of many compiled in Anouk Lang’s “From Codex to Hypertext,” which discusses the progression of what is considered as “literature.” Although Urban Fiction might seem irrelevant to professional criticism, the texts have proven how books “serve as a ground for reflection and critique as well as a means by which readers may be co-opted into various social groups or ideological positions” (14). Through various interviews with a group incarcerated women in Ohio and Pennsylvania, a large percentage of the genre’s audience, Sweeney reveals the diversity of textual interpretation as well as the effects that books can have on social relations and social activities.

Urban Fiction or “gangsta” literature was written as early as 1969, with authors such as Iceberg Slim, Sister Souljah, and Donald Goines. A “non-traditional” form of writing, the stories are rooted in the stories of street crime and tend to read with “the vocabulary and speech patterns of African American urban culture” (129). Naturally, there is an argument among critics (and penal officers, for that matter) over whether the genre can be considered narrative gold or simply “books that glamorize black criminals” (125).

Such anxiety that these books encourage crime and violence has caused several penal officers to remove them from prison shelves. Furthermore, there are cases, such as the Ohio institutions, where Urban Fiction has been banned. I was not surprised to read how racially driven the bans appeared to be; “Several women foreground the racialized dimensions…noting that violent crime thrillers by the white author James Patterson are the most abundantly stocked books in their prison library” (125). The “racial fear” caused books by Maya Angelou and Sanyika Shakur, as well as books addressing class/racial struggle, and essays on prison life to be banned as well. I can’t help but think back to discussions on literacy canons, and and the issues that arise from what texts are considered worthwhile to read and/or analyze. This essay was worth reading simply for the controversy Urban Fiction raises concerning racism and its effect on literature.

Author Piper Kerman recalls a disproportionate amount of James Patterson novels in her prison's library despite the demand for other authors, namely Sista Souljah.

Author Piper Kerman recalls a disproportionate amount of James Patterson novels in her prison’s library despite the demand for other authors, namely Sister Souljah.

Besides revealing racist attitudes rooted federal institutions, Sweeney’s essay examines reader response to Urban Fiction.  Are these books a report of events in a preexisting reality, or are they stories which cause the construction of a new reality? (128) Prisoner opinion on the matter is not universal. Some believe these books can encourage young women down the “wrong path,” while others use the genre to live vicariously in the outside world. Those women who are not familiar with “the streets” have read the books to gain an understanding of such a life.

The literature brings up important social questions about the nature of living on the streets and the value of education. There is not one clear answer as to what path(s) are desirable for the characters or the readers themselves. The books are plot driven, rather than character driven, so the reader can make connections with their own experiences. “I could really relate to her. It helps me keep my own head on straight” (137). This seems like a very elementary concept, but how often do you see a book where the protagonist is rooted in the heart of ghetto? Readers have gone on to explore other genres as well as leave the “street mentality” (139). After reading this essay and learning about the urban Fiction genre, I can safely say I have a better idea of the struggle to find equality in literature. I agree with Sweeney, “Our current failure to approach communal safety and well being from the perspective of social equality and social justice…represents an impoverishment of our social imagination” (140).




“Desire” can be a very loaded word in terms of literary theory. One must examine both the body and soul in relation to imperfections. A most basic definition of “desire” comes from the realization that something is missing. When one has a need or want, the need/want relates to that feeling of absence or being “without.” Desire is the result of a persistent feeling being kept in check by routine or consciousness.

In Aristotle, desire is figured as that which persists between the natural and the psychic domains, mediated by an ethos or a domain of regularly practiced habits” (376).

Plato declared the “body emerges from desire.”  Socrates defended further, “this procreation is the union of man and woman and is a divine thing; for conception and generation are an immortal principle in the mortal creature” (372).  Therefore, even procreation was explained as a spiritual part of human nature; a spiritual desire.  There is a desire to create souls more souls. We could also read the above quote more literally. People desire other people persae, the desire to find and create “the beautiful.” They desire to love, which is both a spiritual and physical desire. I would agree that the concept of finding “the beautiful” applies to literature. Judith Butler states:

Desire of the beautiful requires that writing exceed its own constraints, to present what is “beyond” the world by and through the word” (374).

Some gender driven questions concerning desire…

  • Is desire to create “the beautiful” during procreation a masculine concept while the woman is the “passive” object of that beauty?
  • If so, are we still to assume homo-eroticism is a main explanation for desire?
  • Is desire a merely a masculine characteristic?
  • Is a woman less feminine if she has feelings of desire?